Many fruit and vegetable peels have nutritional benefits.
Getty Images/Aleksandr Zubkov
- Many people peel their fruit and vegetables, but often this is not necessary.
- In fact, there are important nutrients in the peel.
- Another reason not to throw peels away is their effect on the environment.
Many people’s default setting when preparing fruits and vegetables is to peel them. But often it is not necessary. The peel contains important nutrients. Moreover, discarded fruit and vegetable peels contribute to climate change.
Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and many phytochemicals (plant chemicals), such as antioxidants (substances that protect your cells from damage). Not consuming enough of these nutrient-dense foods is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure chronic diseasesincluding cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that about 3.9 million deaths worldwide each year were due to people not eating enough fruits and vegetables.
Eat 400 grams of fruit and vegetables per day, as the WHO advises, is difficult for many people to reach. So could consuming fruit and vegetable peels help with this problem by adding important nutrients to people’s diets?
They can certainly contribute. For example, from a nutritional point of view, important amounts of vitamins, such as vitamin C and riboflavin, and minerals such as iron and zinc, can be found in the peel of seven root vegetables: beetroot, field mustard, carrots, sweet potato, radish, ginger and white potato.
And the United States Department of Agriculture shows that unpeeled apples contain 15% more vitamin C, 267% more vitamin K, 20% more calcium, 19% more potassium and 85% more fiber than their peeled equivalents. Also, many peels are rich in biologically active phytochemicals, such as flavonoids and polyphenols, which have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.
Another reason not to throw peels away is their effect on the environment. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, uneaten food, including skin, generates 8%-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (Rotting food in landfills releases methane, the most potent greenhouse gas.) Only New Zealand reports an annual waste of 13 658 tons of vegetable peels and 986 tons of fruit peels – a country with only 5.1 million inhabitants.
Given the nutritional value of peels and its contribution to food waste, why do people peel fruits and vegetables in the first place? Some need to be peeled, just like the outer parts inedible, do not taste good, are difficult to clean or cause damage, such as banana, orange, melon, pineapple, mango, avocado, onion and garlic. Peeling can also be a necessary part of the recipe, for example when making mashed potatoes. But many peels, such as potato, beetroot, carrot, kiwi and cucumber, are edible, yet people peel them.
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Some people peel fruits and vegetables because they are concerned about pesticides on the surface. Pesticide residues certainly remain on or just below the surface, although this differs per plant species. But most of these residues can be removed by washing. Indeed, the US Food and Drug Administration recommends that people wash produce thoroughly under cold water and scrub with a stiff bristle brush to remove pesticides, dirt and chemicals.
Cooking techniques, such as boiling and steaming, can also reduce pesticide residues. But not all pesticide residues are removed by washing and cooking. And people concerned about their exposure to pesticides may still want to peel. Lists of pesticide levels for fruits and vegetables are available in some countries, for example the Pesticide Action Network make one for the UK. This can help you decide which fruits and vegetables to peel and which peels to eat.
If you want to learn more about fruit and vegetable peels and what you can do with them, you can find lots of advice online, including help on using peels for compostto feed one wormeryor processing in recipes. With a little research and creativity, you can help reduce waste and increase your fruit and vegetable intake. It’s definitely worth a try? And you help achieve one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: halve food waste by 2030.